Tut Underwood

Reporter, Producer

Tut Underwood is producer of  South Carolina Focus, a weekly news feature. A native of Alabama, Tut graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communication.  He worked in radio in his hometown before moving to Columbia where he received a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of South Carolina, and worked for local radio while pursuing his degree.  He also worked in television. He was employed as a public information specialist for USC, and became Director of Public Information and Marketing for the South Carolina State Museum. His hobbies include reading, listening to music in a variety of styles and collecting movies and old time radio programs.

Ways to Connect

This tiny house may be only 400 square feet, but it contains a number of green, sustainable design features.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Three brand-new houses off busy Two Notch Road in Columbia seem a world away from the road’s heavy traffic.  They’re in a wooded area that a visitor would believe was in a forest miles from any city.  In addition to their unique location, the houses are different because of their size: just 400 square feet.  They’re tiny houses, part of a new back-to-basics movement that is gaining traction across the United States.  Friends Joanne Williams and Priscilla Preston thought up the houses when they met at Quaker meetings, where they talked about simplifying their lives.  They’re renting the tiny

Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

This Thursday through Sunday, August 4th through 6th, is South Carolina’s annual Tax-free Weekend, and shoppers may save between $2 million and $3 million in sales taxes.  Arthur Dunn of one Columbia Target store says it’s a busier time for his store than Black Friday, and he expects an increase in business over last year.  The weekend is big for small stores, too, like Salty’s Board Shop, where owner Paul Goff expects to sell a lot of khaki pants and other school apparel, plus book bags and skateboards.   

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be seen along a roughly 70-mile wide path through South Carolina from the Upstate through Greenville and Columbia to Charleston.
NASA/Hinode/XRT, via Wikimedia Commons

This summer’s total solar eclipse is a rare event for the Palmetto State.  Normally a total eclipse doesn’t return to the same spot for close to 400 years, but this will be the second in only 47 years for the folks in Sumter and the surrounding area.  Hap Griffin remembers seeing the last eclipse as an 11-year-old on March 7, 1970.  He said he still recalls how "blown away" he was in the backyard of a friend.   Nearby, the Rev. Joel Osborne climbed a forest tower to take in the awesome celestial  event, and it was a push along his spiritual journey, he said.

Derek W. Black on the Tavis Smiley Show in 2016.
Courtesy PBS/Tavis Smiley Show

In many schools across the nation in the last few decades, concerns over discipline have led to so-called “zero tolerance” policies.  USC law Professor Derek Black says suspension and expulsion rates have doubled under zero tolerance policies in the past 30 years.  Texas educator Dr. Nesa Sasser Hartford believes that the policies are justified in three specific areas – drugs, guns and sexual improprieties.

Inspecting the new troops at Fort Jackson.  They learn the rules quickly- or they'll hear about it.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Fort Jackson has just celebrated its centennial and, as the nation’s largest army training base, new recruits pour in regularly for basic training.  Though they’re met their first day by a pack of screaming drill sergeants, privates Jose Solis and Wallace Castillo don’t mind.  They’ve come for a purpose: to be trained and to learn to be professionals.   They view the sergeants’ yelling as part of the system, and don’t take it personally.  That’s good, says Drill Sergeant Queshawnia Franklin, because that’s how the system is designed, and after the first few weeks have provided the recruits

Heather and Dave Mann, now on dry land, with Dinghy the Sailing Cat.
Haley Kellner/SC Public Radio

Not many people would sell their homes to go sailing up and down the east coast of the United States and into the Caribbean for six years.  But Heather and Dave Mann, late of Wisconsin and now of Summerville, did just that.   Dave says they did it for the adventure, and they had plenty of those, which Heather recorded in a book about the lessons she learned from the ocean during their voyage aboard their sailboat, the Wild Hair. 

Kudzu failed to deliver on its promise as erosion control, but spread so fast it has become an icon of the South.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

A familiar sight on Southern country roads, and sometimes in towns, is kudzu.  The ubiquitous and fast-growing vine was imported from Asia as a decorative plant in the late 19th century, and promoted during the 1930s and 40s as forage for livestock and control for erosion.  According to Clemson Extension agent Dr. Tim Davis, it didn’t quite work out that way.  The plant, which can grow up to a foot a day, spread rapidly throughout the South.  But Davis and Dr.

A rolling course is rehearsed by a media member and coach, heading for the finish line at the Rock Hill BMX track.
Haley Kellner/SC Public Radio

The city of Rock Hill is becoming famous for its amateur sports facilities in everything from soccer to motocross and more.   The last week of July will see the city host the BMX (bicycle motocross) world championships, and riders from Australia to France to Brazil will come to South Carolina  to add an expected $13 million to the local economy.   Prior to that event, however, the city held race for the press to let members of the fourth estate get a feel for what goes into this growing sport. 

From space, a hurricane can appear as a beautiful cloud pattern. (Photo of Hurricane Isabel)
Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory , Johnson Space Center, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Hurricane Center has predicted between 11 and 17 named tropical storms for this year, with 5 to 9 becoming hurricanes and 2 to 4 becoming major hurricanes of category 3 or above.  Meteorologist Mark Malsick of the State Climatology Office says the main thing storms need to get bigger and stronger is warm, shallow water.  

Tens of thousands of purple martins return to Bomb Island at dusk.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Purple martins have roosted on Bomb Island in Lake Murray every summer for decades to prepare for their annual migration to South America. Numbering at least in the tens of thousands, if not more, the birds gather at dusk in great clouds around the island as they return from a day’s hunting for beetles, dragonflies and other high-flying insects.  To naturalist Rudy Mancke, the birds are a wonder of nature. More than that, people have gathered around the island in boats each summer for years, and the phenomenon of this huge mass of birds has become a tourist attraction.

Industrial robots on an automobile assembly line.
ISAPUT [CC BY-SA 4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 Automation has been increasing in the Palmetto State’s factories for a long time, bringing with it fears of job losses for people whose jobs are vulnerable to being replaced by machines.  But Roger Varin of Staubli Robotics, which makes robots for industry, says jobs are changing, but not necessarily vanishing.  In fact, he asserts, automation creates jobs in some areas.  Peter Brews, dean of USC’s Moore School of Business, agreed.  He said what must happen to assure employment in the future is that workers must have better education and training to fill the more technically-oriented jobs

Troubles caused by the historic flood of October 2015 were accompanied by one tiny bright spot: the flood temporarily refilled the state's groundwater supplies, which had been in decline through years of drought since the 1990s.
Courtesy of Nichols resident Courtney Wilds

For many who experienced the destruction of South Carolina’s October 2015 flood, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine that the state was plagued by a drought prior to the historic rain event. Despite the monumental devastation wrought by the flood, hydrologists who study the state’s aquifers, or the state’s usable groundwater resources, have observed a faint silver lining.

Laura Wright of Saluda (right), just turned 111 years old.  Her "baby sister," Annie Belle Chappelle, is 96.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Laura Wright of Saluda recently celebrated her 111th birthday.  Friends and relatives, including her 96-year-old "baby sister," gathered to pay tribute to her long and well-lived life.  A teacher for decades, Wright said her parents prepared and encouraged her and her siblings to get an education and contribute to society.   Her friend Costena Kelly cited "Miss Laura" as a role model, saying "She always said 'be a lady.

Joseph Rackers and Marina Lomazov
Courtesy of the Artists

This week an internationally-acclaimed music event takes place in Columbia: The Southeastern Piano Festival, created and produced by University of South Carolina music professors Joseph Rackers and Marina Lomazov.  Though its name sounds regional, in reality it draws high school applicants and world-class judge/performers from all across the United States and beyond.  The producers tell us how they conceived the festival 15 years ago, and what attracts the finest applicants to vie for the 20 spots that the competition accepts.

Jesse Colin Young still tours and records music, but a half-century after the Summer of Love, he's still proud of the Youngbloods anthem of peace, "Get Together."
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

June 1967 heralded the Summer of Love, when tens of thousands of America’s young people headed to San Francisco with flowers in their hair. The Monterrey Pop Festival was the first major rock event of its kind, and brought wider attention to emerging artists such as The Who, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Big Brother and the Holding Company, with its electrifying singer, Janis Joplin. USC historian Lauren Sklaroff says San Francisco had long been a place where people who felt like outsiders could gather with others like themselves.

Not leaving a will is considered the biggest "sin" of estate planning.  Even an online form, not the best of ideas, is better than no will at all.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Perhaps as much as 50 to 60 percent of South Carolinians do not have a will.  According to attorney Bert Brannon, a will is a person’s last chance to say what he or she wants to happen to his/her possessions, so it should be taken seriously.  Brannon and Richland County Probate Judge Amy McCullough name some reasons why people put off making a will, and why not leaving a will is a really bad idea.  While It has no effect on the deceased at all, it can cause untold distress and trouble for those left behind.

Fire Ants
Marufish via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

    Fire ants are a perennial problem in the South, and in South Carolina, but science is working to control them.  Aiken County Clemson Extension Agent Vicki Bertagnalli and former Richland County Clemson Extension Agent Tim Davis both have tested ant baits before they were marketed, and say they can be 85-90 percent effective in controlling fire ants when used in the spring and fall. 

Drummer Paul Riddle
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

  

  Paul Riddle helped put Spartanburg on the musical map as the drummer for the original Marshall Tucker Band. Today he teaches drums in Greenville and can’t believe his good fortune that he’s able to work with young people while playing the drums all day. In this segment, the nationally esteemed musician recounts stories of the Tucker Band, and a longtime (20 years!) student and a fellow teacher comment on his remarkable skills and his commitment to music.

Megan Scharett, a new high school graduate from the Lowcountry, looks forward to a career in the food industry.  She has apprenticed with a prestigious restaurant in Charleston and taken many college courses at Trident Technical College through the Youth
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Today's job market is changing rapidly, and whether the field is health care, advanced manufacturing or information technology, there are high paying jobs for trained workers with a two-year associate’s degree from one of South Carolina's technical colleges. The Youth Apprenticeship Program at the state’s tech colleges acts as a "middleman" between businesses needing trained workers and students looking for meaningful careers. But not just college students.

Jovial Joe Pinner has been a familiar face, and voice, in South Carolina broadcasting for more than a half century.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Joe Pinner has been a fixture on South Carolina television since 1963. He's known from one end of South Carolina to the other - and beyond, not only as a weatherman and familiar children’s show host "Mr. Knozit" for 37 years, but as a commercial spokesman and emcee at scores of parades and festivals statewide. Today Pinner, who still pitches in at WIS-TV on Fridays at age 80-something, talks about his beginnings in radio, how he developed his familiar, booming voice, and the origins of the Knozit show.

Imperial storm troopers have become instantly recognizable "bad guys" in the wake of the phenomenal success of the Star Wars films.
Pixabay/gromit15

With indelible characters such as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo and R2D2, George Lucas’s “Star Wars” hit theaters on May 25, 1977, and the world of pop culture would never be the same.  The phenomenal success of the film has created an industry that includes books, toys, clothing and much more, in addition to a series of monster hit movies.  Looking back on the movie’s beginnings in this report, “Star Wars” aficionado Aaron Nicewonger relates how initial doubt about the film’s chances for success allowed Lucas to retain a large percent of the merchandising for the film, making him

The mandolin is a central of many Bluegrass groups. (Mandolin player with the Jeff Austin Band, on stage at the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines, July, 2016.)
Max Goldberg via Flickr [CC BY 2.0}

Bluegrass music has always been popular in South Carolina, but Willie Wells thinks it’s about to break out to a new, mass popularity.  Every Friday night, Wells holds a bluegrass jam at his store, Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor.  Fans and musicians enjoy a performance before getting out their guitars, banjos and fiddles to play country, gospel and bluegrass tunes with each other. 

This full-scale replica of Christopher Columbus ship the Nina serves, with its partner, the Pinta, as a floating museum and classroom, as it proved to students and tourists on a recent weeklong stop in Charleston.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Christopher Columbus's historic voyages have come alive through full-size replicas of two of his famous ships, the Nina and the Pinta, which sail the east coast and internal river systems of the United States as floating museums.  On a  recent visit to Charleston, school classes and tourists got a feel for what life would be like on such a ship, called a caravel, on a trans-oceanic voyage.  Romantic, yes.

photo of an old college campus in spring
David Mark, via Pixabay [CC0 1.0]

High schools all over the state graduate students at this time of year. But this time next year, Charleston County will begin graduating some students with a high school diploma and a college associate’s degree at the same time. Following a national trend already begun in other counties, Charleston has approved an “early college” program beginning this fall. According to Charleston County School District official Kim Wilson, the program will start with a class of 100 this fall and add 100 more each fall for the next three years.

The horn section of the band at Lee Correctional Institution.  Musicians work on original songs to perform with members of DeCoda, a New York-based chamber music group.   The annual week of collaboration is something new for everyone involved.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville counts numerous musicians among its inmates.  Such is their talent that they have attracted the attention of DeCoda, a New York-based chamber music group.  For four years now, the prison has sponsored a program with the group in which DeCoda comes to work with the prisoners at Lee for a week to write and play music for an annual performance.

Elder law attorneys try to meet with their senior clients regarding services such as wills and powers of attorney before they are needed, so the clients' wishes are carried out without confusion when the need arises.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

May is Elder Law Month, which seeks to increase awareness of a relatively new area of legal practice.   Elder law came into being in the last 20 to 30 years to help senior citizens, and more recently, people with special needs, regardless of age.  Elder law attorney Lauren Wasson says the specialty often helps older people navigate the hurdles to qualify for Medicaid or VA benefits, but it also frequently involves services to seniors and their families such as wills, powers of attorney and guardianship/conservatorship.  Her colleague, Andy Atkins, also warns of the biggest legal problem fac

White-hat hackers keep up with the latest tricks of cyber criminals to help them fight these "black hats" and protect the information of businesses.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Hacking, whether it’s into a bank, insurance company or an individual’s records, is a serious, and growing crime in the 21st century.  The damages inflicted by hackers in the United States alone can reach into the billions of dollars annually.

Solar eclipse - November 13, 2012.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will cover a 70- mile-wide strip of South Carolina from Greenville through Columbia to Charleston. University of South Carolina Astronomy Professor Steve Rodney is already making plans for the event. The last few days have seen the sun in the same place in the sky it will be on Aug. 21, so Rodney and his students can prepare well for the once-in-a lifetime event in the Midlands. They’ve located where the sun will be to make sure there will be no obstructions, and he’s got students scouting the best locations on campus for eclipse watching.

Robert Zander's West Columbia home was heavily damaged by the historic rains that produced the flood of October 2015.  With help from a nonprofit disaster relief agency.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

The flood of October 2015 damaged homes it didn’t even enter, as West Columbia resident Robert Zander discovered the hard way. The historically heavy rains soaked the ground in his yard, causing a large tree to fall through his roof. Rain waters soaked the interior and rotted sheetrock all over the house. After a frustrating six months dealing with FEMA, Zander was about to give up when Hearts and Hands, a non-profit disaster recovery agency, showed up. Together with its partners in Brethren Disaster Ministries, repairs were made, even exceeding Zander’s expectations.

Orders in hand, Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the USS Hornet (CV-8) chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle, leader of the Army Air Forces attack group. This group of fliers carried the battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japanese empire.
U.S. Navy

75 years ago (April 18 1942) 80 brave men did what had never been attempted: they flew army bombers off a U.S. aircraft carrier on their way to bomb Tokyo.  The attack, which has become known to history as the Doolittle Raid, was America’s first strike back at Japan after the infamous sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II.  In this report, Mount Pleasant author James Scott talks about the significance of the raid to the war, and its great psychological effect both on the American and Japanese publics. 

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